December 30, 2008

Photo of the Week: Dec. 30, 2008

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: The Talmud teaches that “Ten measures of beauty descended on the world — nine were taken by Jerusalem, one by the rest of the world. There is no beauty like the beauty of Jerusalem.” The immeasurable beauty of Jerusalem can be witnessed on any day of the year. This photograph, however, illustrates the guiding principle which separates the casual photographer from the serious devotee. It's what I call "carpe photos," or "seize the light," if you'll forgive me for mixing the Latin and Greek.

This view of the old city of Jerusalem is photographed day after day by thousands of tourists who flock to the Mount of Olives. I had the good fortune to be passing through this section of the city on a spectacular winter
morning when the air was crystal clear following a day a rain. I was equally lucky to have time to take the half-hour detour required to get in position to take this shot. It was well worth the time as cloud shows such as this are rare enough to warrant seizing the opportunity when it arrives.

No complex, technical thinking was required to make this photograph. The mid-morning light is fairly even across the frame, which allowed both the sky and land to remain properly exposed for detail in the highlights using the camera's automatic metering system. Compositionally, I chose to give a slight emphasis to the sky so that the two halves of the photograph are not equal in size. To me, the beauty of this scene is inherent in the subject. Capturing it in a photo is merely a question of making the effort.

December 21, 2008

Photo of the Week: Dec. 22, 2008

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Part of the process of previsualization – envisioning an image in your mind before you shoot it – includes giving thought to how that image might be used later on. For example, if an image is being used to illustrate a magazine article, I would give priority to shooting a vertical composition to allow for the option of placing it full frame on the publication's cover. More important, however, is allowing some dead space in the image where text can be placed. With that in mind, I'll often shoot an image wider than necessary, knowing I can always crop out unneeded content. This week's photo works perfectly in that respect. I chose it because it differs from the most common Chanukah pictures, which show the menorah lit with all nine candles. Additionally, a few lucky coincidences help make this photo exceptional. I like the way the candles stand at odd angles to each other and the flames bend in the breeze. There is a pleasant lack of perfection, emphasized by the empty holder next to the shamash, that makes the image feel natural, not staged. I also like the background, which is blurred but mimics the foreground with specks of firelight from several other menorahs. And I like the way the light drifts to shadow as your eye moves down the candles and toward the base of the menorah. Combined with the dark border along the top, which provides a perfect spot to overlay a holiday greeting, the dark area along the bottom gives prominence to the photo's main subject.

December 18, 2008

Photo of the Week: Dec. 16, 2008

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: The little curl at the top of the tree – and how perfectly it rolls over to the right and how impeccably it echoes the roundness of the sun – is the reason I took this photograph. Beautiful sunsets are frequent in the Judean mountains near my home and I've taken enough satisfying shots to be able to enjoy them without my camera. This photo was the culmination of a short hike around the community of Bat Ayin in Gush Etzion, south of Jerusalem. I don't think I would have even noticed the trees had I not paused to look up at the sky, just to see if perhaps something interesting were about to unfold. As soon as I did, I spotted the sun dipping into the gap between the two silhouetted trees. I adjusted my angle of view slightly and waited until the sun dropped to the midpoint of the space. Because the sky is almost entirely without clouds, the dark trees need to occupy some of the empty space at the top of the photo to provide balances to the composition. All photographs, especially those shot in nature, preserve fleeting moments in time. A few months later I returned to this spot and both the tree, and its cute little curl, were gone.

Photo of the Week: Dec. 9, 2008

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: The last time I posted a photo of food, a shot of mouth-watering red grapes ready for harvest, a number of people wrote to me that they wanted to grab one and take a bite! I hadn't even sampled them myself while out in the field, but I can attest to my supreme enjoyment of two of the challot featured in this week's picture. This is a photo I had tried on several occasions to capture, but I never managed to find the right bakery displaying its loaves in a manner that allows so many to be photographed in one frame. It helped that they were outside on a sidewalk, situated under an overhang which blocked any direct light, thus creating very soft, diffused and near-perfect lighting for this shot. In order to take the picture, I had to contend with two obstacles. Most difficult were the many shoppers passing through the market and between the subject and my camera on a busy Friday morning. Most dangerous were the cars moving along the street where I stood in order to get back far enough to include the entire bread rack in the frame. And I had to wait for an opportunity when neither cars nor shoppers interfered. I cropped the image to remove the sides of the metal cart holding the loaves, which I thought looked unappealing, and to create the impression that the challot are infinitely numerous. By filing the idea for this image in the back of my mind, it became readily accessible the moment opportunity arose. Taking them home was as easy as releasing the shutter and 20 shekels from my pocket. The only thing missing is the delightful aroma.

December 01, 2008

Photo of the Week: Dec. 2, 2008

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: I've probably burned a barrel of oil unsuccessfully chasing after rainbows during the fleeting moments between sun and storm. In this week's photo I did find a rainbow of sorts, on a scintillating fall morning when not a single drop of rain fell from the sky. Imagine for an instant a rolling hillside speckled with white rocks, neatly planted rows of fruit trees, a winding, dirt road, a distant cow shed and an electrical tower. Amid this collage of nature and industry, between the dusty road and the rusted carcass of a bus, lay a sea of colorful leaves that arced through my viewfinder like a rainbow bending its beauty across the horizon. I found a cluster of rocks which provided enough elevation to shoot down on the mass of leafy color and blot out the unsightly surroundings. A zoom lens allowed me to isolate my target and trim the strips of color into nearly equal parts.
This photo resembles a work of pointillism. The great impressionist masters understood that the interplay between color and light intricately represented on canvas brings the viewer's eye to a point of appreciation which is rarely matched, even by the physical world. Digital camera sensors and some modern printing presses, reproduce this technique using red, blue and green pixels in order to build the proper color relationships as seen by the human eye. At the right time and place, this trio of visual workhorses blend to reveal the ever-elusive pot of gold.

Photo of the Week: Nov. 25, 2008

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: One of the joys of teaching photography is giving a group of students the same assignment and afterward discussing their vastly different interpretations of the same subject. Invariably, it’s a learning experience for everyone present, including the teacher. I played that game with myself earlier this month while racing against the setting sun to find a viewpoint that captured the radiance of fall in northern Israel. This week's photo depicts the same valley shown in last week's photo, situated just south of Metula along Israel's northern border. Taken a few minutes earlier and looking to the south as opposed to the west and into the sun, it offers an entirely different perspective on this idyllic setting.
This is a more complex photo which defies a brief description. I had to crop this image very carefully to remove some ugly farm machinery and retain only the natural features of the land within the frame. Precise cropping can elevate an average photo to something exceptional, so I often experiment with different crops until settling on a final composition. In cropping this photo, I began by slicing off a small section of the olive trees from the bottom edge, which improved the photo in three ways. First, it allowed the orange plum leaves to flow more prominently into the frame by entering through the lower left corner and continuing up to the center, following the action of the photo. Secondly, a darker clump of olive trees fell into the right hand corner. Having a slightly darker area along the photo's edge keeps the viewer's eyes within the photo. Finally, trimming the clump of olive trees makes them about the same size as the photo's two other prominent features. The lack of a clear center of interest pits these equally-sized sections against each other in a tense competition to hold the viewer's eye. Likewise, the photo's odd assortment of colors fights with each other for prominence rather than blending harmoniously. Most of the time I build the composition around the main point of interest, but in this case, the clash of color and content adds tension and imbalance while serving to enliven the overall picture.

November 17, 2008

Photo of the Week: Nov. 18, 2008

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Anyone who encountered me toward the end of my recent three-day foray to the north would have seen the effects of rising three consecutive mornings well before dawn and schlepping my gear and ambition through dewy trails and prickly underbrush until darkness and exhaustion set in. After 583 km of travel by car and several more on foot and 652 shutter releases, I can reveal that I brought home five excellent landscapes. If I were a hunter, which I sometimes imagine I am when out in the wilds with my camera, I would have settled for bagging one lion. So five is a roaring success!

Just north of Kiryat Shemona, a few seconds before the itinerant Israeli runs out of country, is a small valley below the town of Metula, where farmers have planted groves of pear, plum, olive, and pomegranate, along with grapes and an assortment of other greenery. I had noted this bucolic spot in the past as a potential shooting location in the right season. That moment arrived on Nov. 6 at 3:42 p.m. Turning onto a rare paved road that descended into the valley and up the far side, I found a position looking across the valley and into the setting sun. I thought at the time I had missed the moment, because there were already deep shadows on the upslope and the sun was so low I had to shade my lens with my left hand to reduce the extreme glare. Staring into the sun as I composed, I could barely see what spread out before me and I was concerned that the shadowed areas would appear as black in the final image. In retrospect, the final result as shown above is nearly perfect. The shadows miraculously fall along the outer edges of the composition and provide depth and contrast while the golden sunlight paints a swath down the center of the frame. The play of light and shadow combine wonderfully to create a beautiful, warm autumn afternoon feel.

Photo of the Week: Nov. 11, 2008

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: In my hometown, I have identified numerous locations with excellent lighting and background conditions and I know just what time of the day and the year to bring my portrait subjects to these sites for the best results. When I photograph in a new location, the first thing I look for is a suitable background. It may seem counter intuitive, but letting the background be your guide to both what and where to photograph will guarantee your subject remains the focal point of your image. Wandering among the fall colors of northern Israel last week, I discovered a plum orchard growing along the banks of the Hermon Stream, not far from Kiryat Shemona. Having invested the first rays of daylight in a grander landscape, I honed in on the smaller details of the season as the sun rose higher. This shot afforded two opportunities for varying the background. By lowering the camera angle slightly, I could set the leaves against a shadowy area that would turn almost entirely black and provide a nice emphasis to the bright color splotches. The second alternative is seen above: I lowered my tripod a few inches and raised the camera angle to bring a nearby tree and its assorted color patterns into the background. The background is still well out of focus and dark enough to give a kick to the brightly colored plum leaves. But what I really like about this composition is that the hint of color in the background suggests a larger picture of what the orchard looked like with dozens of trees at their peak forming a sea of red, orange, and gold hues. Keep your eyes on the background and what's in the foreground will also be a lot more visible.

Photo of the Week: Nov. 4, 2008

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: During a recent workshop with a group of young students, we spent an hour exploring one of Jerusalem's old neighborhoods looking for the hidden treasures of great photography: compositional frames. Using water pipes, tree trunks, a street sign and a hole in a wall, I taught the group of teenage boys how to crouch and bend their bodies, and their vision, to see through layers of depth and compose images with foreground frames that isolate the main subject. This photograph of a vineyard in the hills near Alon Shvut in Gush Etzion is a slight variation on that lesson in that the frame is the main subject, with the distant hills offering just a hint of the majestic fall landscape. To accentuate the vibrant colors of fall, there is no better technique than shooting directly into the sun and letting the light pour through the multi-colored, translucent leaves. That can create difficulties with lens flare on a cloudless day, but one easy solution is to find something to block the sun from shining directly into the lens. This photo demonstrates how making a tiny adjustment in the camera's position placed one leaf directly in front of the sun, allowing only a few select spikes of sunlight to filter through. Once you catch on to how easy this is, you may find you are seeing frames even when your camera is safely stowed away for the day.

October 28, 2008

Photo of the Week: Oct. 28, 2008

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Walking through the hills near my home earlier this week, I thought about how I find the visual clues that are the first sign of a good photo opportunity. Much of the visual hunting I do is simply honed instinct; I let my eyes wander and they come to rest at the place of greatest interest, usually a bright spot or an area with strong colors or patterns. When light and color and pattern come together, it's an easy task to merge them into a photographic whole. I stumbled onto this scene while hiking through a small forest in the Galilee not far from Rosh Pina at the height of last fall's color display. In the dark of the tree cover, a golden glow caught my eye and aroused my curiosity because the colors seemed unnatural. Most of the colors of fall are found in decaying leaves, such as the grape vines seen in the foreground. The intense yellow of this barren field is the result of the scattered remains of decomposing hay. Having found the photo's subject, I climbed up a small hill to get a better perspective and to add a strip of the orange vineyard, whose colors provide a nice complement to the green and gold that dominate the rest of the image.

Photo of the Week: Oct. 21, 2008

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Fall is upon us in the northern hemisphere and there is no better time of year to enjoy the splendor of nature. I am fortunate to have lived in New England for many years, and I can say with full confidence that Israel's fall foliage display – though on a smaller scale – is equally impressive and it lasts much longer here because winter is more temperate and slower to arrive. For the next several weeks, I'd like to feature photographs that show off the brilliant colors that shape Israel's magical fall landscape. In the last 10 years, vineyards have been widely planted throughout the country, including the Negev Desert, to support Israel's burgeoning wine industry. Many valleys and hillsides are covered with several varieties of vine, each of which produces a different leaf color, creating some dazzling patterns of color. This shot is exactly what I had been searching for when I found this section of terrace in a valley in Gush Etzion, south of Jerusalem. As with every landscape, timing is critical, so I planned a series of late-afternoon exercise walks through the hills with my camera slung over my shoulder, knowing if something interesting crossed my path, I'd be there to capture it. Walking down from the road where I had parked, I immediately noticed the strip of yellow and green vine that loops across the foreground, a perfect visual gateway to the contrasting orange and dark green leaves in the photo's center. I used a mid-range telephoto lens (135mm) to compress the depth, thereby bringing the two main subjects closer together. The long lens also narrowed the angle of view so it included just the top of the orange vine on the right while allowing a peek at the valley below in full glory.

Photo of the Week: Oct. 14, 2008

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: I love to explore the Mea Shearim and Beit Yisrael neighborhoods of Jerusalem this time of year to observe the color and festive activities as the community prepares for Sukkot, which begins on Monday evening, Oct. 13. One of the visual highlights is the impromptu market set up to sell the four species used in the rituals of the holiday and which must be purchased anew each year. Two years ago I came upon this odd assortment of etrogim, the Hebrew name for the citron fruits, and snapped this picture. In addition to the etrog, the four species are comprised of the lulav (date palm frond), hadass (myrtle) and aravah (willow branch). I have yet to see this unusual orange, Yemenite variety of etrog again, perhaps because the vendor wanted $200 each for these rare specimen.I chose this photo because it gives me an opportunity to share an image of something that most people have never seen and, through the wonders of the internet, ask if anyone may know where it comes from or how it was cultivated. Sukkot is our "zman simchatenu," the season of our joy. Wishing everyone a joyous and meaningful holiday.

Photo of the Week: Oct. 7, 2008

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Cotton has a bad rap in Israel because it is an intensive water consumer in a region short on water supplies. Israeli scientists are trying to develop high-quality strains that require less water, but in the meantime, we'll have to imagine the wads of fluff melting into the soil and replenishing our aquifers. I like this photo because it presents an unusual view of Israel from two perspectives. First, a foreboding sky is atypical in a country with a very mild climate. Secondly, this scene resembles winter more than late summer when it was taken, and certainly differs from the olive orchards that typify this country's landscape. Once again I had to venture off road to find this viewpoint. Passersby might not even notice the field as it is obscured from view by roadside vegetation. I did spot it and drove headfirst into the thick of it as I had never before stood in a cotton field and wanted the additional thrill of admiring it up close. There was nothing prominent on the horizon so I grabbed my widest lens in order to accentuate the vastness of the field. I raised the camera to its highest point on my tripod, which is over my head, so I stood on the doorsill of my car in order to focus and compose the image. To bring the closest plants into prominence, I pointed the camera down slightly and fired off the self-timer, a useful feature to avoid the shake that results from pressing the shutter release.

Photo of the Week: Sept. 30, 2008

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Following morning prayers at sunrise on a cliff above the Dead Sea, my hiking partner raised a shofar and delivered a few short blasts, as is the custom during the month of Elul, the month that precedes Rosh Hashanah. I knew that I wanted to shoot a silhouette to highlight the unique, twisted form of the long shofar made from the Kudu antelope horn. To my delight, the sun was still low on the horizon, and it was an easy matter of shifting my position until I placed it directly behind the hands and mouth, which were just large enough to block most of the direct light and prevent any lens flare. When we look at photographs, our eyes find their way to the brightest parts of the image. Here, the few visible sections of sun draw the eyes right into the heart of the image where they can pause and let the mind contemplate the image as a whole.

Photo of the Week: Sept. 23, 2008

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Ein Gedi (Spring of the Goat) Nature Reserve is one of the most popular hiking spots in the Judean Desert and a park I've explored many times. Because of my familiarity with the area, I've tried on recent visits to find a new way to convey the unique beauty found in this true desert oasis. Of the two main trails through the park, Nahal Arugot, where this shot was taken, is the longer and more difficult canyon, but rich in the wet rewards so comforting to the desert hiker. I spotted this pool on my way up the canyon, but passed by without shooting because the sun was high and the light unimpressive. Several hours later, after cooling down at Hidden Falls, I passed this spot again on my way out of the park. I was immediately drawn to the late afternoon sunlight reflecting off the high cliffs and flooding the lower canyon with beautiful, golden light. The success of this photo rests entirely on the creation of the arcing foreground, which both frames the main subject and creates an additional rounded form – in negative space - which balances with the two giant, circular boulders. The foreground is actually flat, although it appears to rise almost vertically in the photo, a distortion in perspective caused by the camera's position above the rock and tilted down at a 45-degree angle. To create the silky effect in the small waterfall, I set my camera on a tripod, programmed the self-timer, lowered the ISO to 200, dialed the aperture to its smallest opening and slowed the shutter to 1/3-second.

September 19, 2008

Photo of the Week: Sept. 16, 2008

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Can't you just taste 'em? If you can, you may be experiencing a form of synesthesia, the ability of one sensory input to stimulate another. A good photograph of a familiar subject, such as food, will often trigger the taste sense of the person looking at it, just as a photo with strong textural detail can be experienced as tactile. In this photograph of ripe grapes - a ubiquitous image of late summer in Israel - two things add dimension to an ordinary picture. First, by moving in close to the subject, I was able to isolate this bunch from the surrounding vineyard and capture the subtle color variations among the different grapes. One of my colleagues is fond of saying that a photographer's best zoom lens is his legs. If you're looking for instant improvement to your photography with one easy tip, it would be to move closer to your subject whenever possible.

Secondly, the soft back lighting helps bring out the color and detail of the grapes so that they attain a mouth-watering appeal. I also like this shot better than several others where there is a clear view of the entire cluster. The leaves in the foreground help direct the eye toward the most important part of the image and they add a bit of mystery to the photo as well.

Photo of the Week: Sept. 9, 2008

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Wander around Jerusalem long enough and you'll likely hear someone say that the stones are alive with history. The rock tiles that line the plaza around the Western Wall could tell of countless souls who trod on them while en route to pray at Judaism's holiest site. In this photo, the stones serve a dual purpose in transforming a difficult shooting situation into a distinct and powerful image. First, they provide an interesting yet simple background to offset the subject. Noticing the background of a photograph is a vital step toward eliminating distracting details that often ruin good photos. Secondly, the tiles act like a giant reflector, catching the sharp rays of early morning sunlight and bouncing them toward the camera.
Time after time I find the most dramatic photos emerge when I point the camera directly into the sun or another bright light source. The clincher in this image is the shadow fragment in the upper left corner. Without it, the silhouette would have to stand on its own, alone and moving aimlessly through the photo's empty spaces. The shadow gives definition to the space while providing a nice complement to the silhouetted figure's shadow because the two fit together to form an asymmetrical but balanced composition.

Photo of the Week: Sept. 2, 2008

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Until I began to study and use natural light more seriously, I was not able to see a photo like this. I say "see," because the photo looks very different from how my eyes saw this scene while I photographed it. I've noted in the past how much better our eyes are than our cameras at seeing detail in high contrast settings, when there are both very bright and dark areas in an image. This is one of the most common and difficult problems photographers must contend with. There is simply no way to expose both ends of the brightness spectrum properly, which forces the photographer to choose one end or the other. Whichever part of the image you choose to expose properly, the other end either goes very white or very dark. In order to make the proper choice, you have to be able to visualize both possibilities before shooting.
Here, it was an easy choice, as I knew letting the trees go dark by metering the sunlit area would add drama to the image. The Yemin Moshe quarter and adjacent park is one of Jerusalem's most beautiful neighborhoods, although from this angle it could be anywhere in the world. The feeling of peace and solitude – one of the area's main characteristics – is emphasized by the empty paths and vacant benches. Like other modern cities, Jerusalem has its share of traffic, noise and pollution, so it's comforting to know there is an oasis of quiet one can escape to, whether for real or via an image hanging on the wall.

August 25, 2008

Photo of the Week: Aug. 26, 2008

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Sabra is the Hebrew name given to a native-born Israeli Jew and also the prickly pear cactus, which grows abundantly throughout Israel, although, ironically, it is not a native species. The dual meaning of the term is meant to imply that Israelis, like their flowering namesake, feature a thorny and abrasive exterior that conceals a sweeter, gentler interior. Whether true or not about our native population, this photograph reveals the contrasting personality traits of the Sabra plant by juxtaposing the "softer" flowering side against the "harder" thorny spines. It would be impossible, I think, to depict in a photograph the plant's inner sweetness, so portraying it as it flowers is the best approximation. Over the years, I have become addicted to using back light – light which shines from the rear of the subject toward the camera – because of how beautifully it enhances the color and texture of flower petals. I brought this image home following a mid-August hike last summer near Beit Shemesh. I was very surprised to find anything flowering in the parched, brown hills amid the summer heat, but cactus thrives in the desert as well as the country's greener areas under some very difficult conditions. Not unlike Israelis, whether born on native soil or not.

Photo of the Week: Aug. 19, 2008

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: The world is flat, or so it would certainly appear looking through my 12-24 wide-angle, digital zoom along Israel's central coast at HaBonim Nature Reserve. And because it really is flat, or at least the part of the earth that the camera is concerned with, it takes a bit of effort to compose an image that does justice to the beauty of this stretch of rocky shoreline. The best landscapes, especially those which lack dimension, are shot from high ground to increase image depth. In this location, however, my lateral movement was restricted in order to include the many pools spread out across the foreground. The best I could do was step up onto a rock about one foot off the ground. That helped raise the horizon line a little higher above the line where the rocks meet the water, but that thin strip of sea adds substantial depth to the image. I brought home my share of crashing wave shots, but none but this shot evoked the feeling of warm summer evening, relaxing in the sand, nothing to do but watch the sun go down.

Photo of the Week: Aug. 12, 2008

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: On a midsummer's day hike lacking color and visual inspiration, I surprised myself with this photographic souvenir. After several rainless months and the accumulation of dirt and sand blown in from the desert or a closer source, much of Israel's August landscape is uninviting to the artist. Nevertheless, my professional pride pushes me to take on a challenge to find some subject of interest every time out, even if I have to resort to the abstract form as I have this week. I use the word "surprise" with total honestly because this is one of those pictures that I didn't get a feeling for while I was shooting, but discovered only when I emptied the contents of my memory card onto my hard drive. I took only two shots, another sign that I wasn't seeing well in the moment. The original is a paler version of this image, which I sharpened and added contrast, post production tasks that every image receives in some measure. In a landscape of dull browns and dusty greens, the pink berries of this unidentified tree caught my attention. The unanticipated bonus in this shot, however, are the blue, unripened berries, which, along with the green foliage, add a nice complement to the dominant pink color scheme. The shot was taken late in the day, so I was forced to use a wide aperture at ISO 400, choices I would have made in any case in order to narrow the depth of field. It used to take days before prints would come back from the lab, nearly long enough to forget what was in the bag. I guess a few hours delayed gratification is not such a bad thing.

August 07, 2008

Photo of the Week: Aug. 5, 2008

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: It only takes an instant to create a photograph, but nature took her time to form these odd-looking, sculpted rocks atop a plateau in the Negev Desert. For countless ages, rain, floods and wind have been carving these chalk and limestone formations in an ongoing process of erosion. This spot is about midway along a seven-hour hike I did on the Avdat Plateau with Chezi, my intrepid hiking partner. In this particular section, the trail skirts the top of a canyon along a rocky ridge. We arrived at mid-morning and, as can be deduced by the shadows, the sun is high and to the right of the frame. I had to crouch to reduce some of the glare, which aided the composition by bringing the top of the second rock into view and shifting the nearer rock so it could serve as a frame. Although the image is shot in high-contrast, midday light, the light is fairly even, which allows for an exposure that preserves the detail in both the clouds and the distant plateau. I can imagine this spot at lit up at sunset, though I'll probably never see it at that time of day as it's a two-hour walk to the nearest road. In my mind, more than any other landscape image, the desert defines Israel. Fully 60 percent of the country is desert. The desert in Israel blooms, and no more so than in places untouched by the hand of man.

Photo of the Week: July 29

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Staring out across the ocean into the midday sun would probably rank last on my list of choice places and times to photograph. I often find myself in the right place at the wrong time, so when that happens, I reach deep down into my bag of photographic tricks. Rosh Hanikra is a chalky cliff along the Mediterranean coast on the border between Israel and Lebanon, known for its labyrinthine grottoes carved over the years by the pounding surf. I was en route to an assignment not far from the coast and thought I'd steal an hour admiring the aquamarine water that flows through this natural wonder. Following the dark and misty maze of tunnels, I was surprised to emerge suddenly into a very short opening with a southwestern view of blue ocean expanse. The fresh air and sunshine compelled me to stop, gaze, and, of course, preserve the moment in pixels.

Actually, I shot this image on film, using my widest lens, a 20 mm Nikkor stopped down to f22 to produce the sun star, a natural optical effect of shooting with the lens at its smallest aperture. Without this tool, it's nearly impossible to shoot directly at the sun at high noon. As luck would have it, there were some pretty cumulus clouds to add interest to the sky, in particular the three directly under the sun which nicely parallel the three main rocks situated just off shore. My memory in pocket, I stepped back into the darkness and headed off to work.

July 23, 2008

Photo of the Week: July 22, 2008

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: A couple of years ago, the Jerusalem Post ran a picture of Arab children having a snowball fight. The photo stuck in my mind as a fantasy of what life in Israel ought to be like more often. I shot this photo on the beach at Achziv, a coastal park only a few kilometers south of the Lebanese border. It offers a glimpse of the carefree, whimsical side of life in the Holy Land. On a hot and lazy summer afternoon, children play and wait out the sunset without a hint of worry. All too often, images of Israel generalize life here as both a physical and political battleground. It's important to see the mundane, the ordinary, the familiar, and yes, the unencumbered moments of innocence that are still possible. To create the silhouette, you have to ratchet up your courage and point the camera directly at a bright light source, in this case, the setting sun. It's a tricky business trying to balance bright light and shadows, so I bracketed a few exposures above and below what my meter indicated. This shot emerged as the favorite, because the human forms – albeit a very tiny component of the composition – were caught in the best posture to deliver the photo's emotional impact. I've never been a conformist, so why start with the camera, especially when the results are often so fantastic!

Photo of the Week: July 15, 2008

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: One of the best ways to improve your photography skills is by studying pictures, including your own. Years ago I made a similar image of hay bales in California and hung a print on my wall. I was proud of it, enjoyed it, but most of all, I looked at it often enough to eventually see its faults and how I could have improved it. Today I instruct my students to choose one of their photos to hang in their homes, not simply to help them strengthen their identities as photographers, but also knowing that a lesson will emerge for them at some future time.

This image was taken spontaneously as I drove through Emek HaEla, about 30 minutes from my home. Agricultural scenes are not difficult to find in Israel, so this is not the kind of subject that ordinarily captivates me, because, frankly, these images remind me more of Iowa than Israel. Nevertheless, the pleasant morning light falling on the freshly baled hay compelled me to finally stop and practice my art. Because the bales are identical in color to the surrounding ground from which they were cut, lighting was crucial to make them stand out. Notice how the top and left side of the nearest bale blend in perfectly with the adjacent background. Fortunately, the sun's position to the left and behind the bales creates shadow on the front side, giving strong definition to each bale, much as a portrait photographer sculpts the face of his subject with light to emphasize facial features. The dark rectangles also form an interesting, staggered pattern that meanders through the image and injects a welcome dynamic into an inanimate and static subject. Hey, is this Iowa? No, it's the Holy Land.

Photo of the Week: July 8, 2008

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: The Kotel is the western supporting wall of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and the holiest site at which Jews may pray. (The holiest site would be the Holy of Holies, situated somewhere on the Temple Mount itself, but whose exact location is not known.) Probably the most visited and photographed site in Israel, the Kotel reverberates – for many of us – with a mystical and spiritual energy that inspires awe and reverence. All along the wall, thousands of tiny notes, containing prayers to God scribbled in every language known to man, are jammed into cracks and crannies, some surviving there for years.

I have made dozens of pictures of these notes, and admire their colors and patterns every time I am at the Wall. This is one of my favorite shots because, unlike most of the other smooth stones making up the wall, this section is rough and jagged. I like the way the dark shadows of the crevices contrast with the brighter areas of the stone and how the colored notes – including the many white ones - provide visual relief from the dominant brown of the stone. I made one minor change while preparing this image for presentation: I cropped the bottom, moving the edge upward to cut off the small, white note. Because the image is vertically oriented to conform to the cracks running from top to bottom, cropping at this point gives the base of the photo an anchor, albeit subtle, which keeps the eye from sliding down and off the image.

Photo of the Week: July 1, 2008

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Many years ago, I photographed a sunset at the Grand Canyon. There was an observation point along the road where about 25 tourists had gathered, but as soon as the sun dipped below the horizon, all but three of us went on our way. One of the other photographers quipped to me, "This is where you separate the amateurs from the pros!" Why? Because the best light from a sunset often occurs about 15-20 minutes after the sun disappears. He was right, as the best shots of the evening came a short while after the crowd had vanished.
Despite being among the most commonly photographed subjects, sunsets frequently yield disappointing results. After all, how can you take a wide expanse of sky, the unique mood of twilight and a process that often lasts more than an hour and reduce it to the blink of an eye? Well, you can't really. Although I've taken many very satisfying sunset photos, I still find myself chasing after a good one and studying the sky in the late afternoon to see if clouds and weather patterns will combine for a good celestial show.

This shot was taken near the city of Sderot, on the way back from a trip to Gush Katif two years ago. I was traveling with friends when we noticed the colors forming in the sky with only a few minutes to spare before the sun disappeared. We jumped out of the car and looked for some high ground. Often with sunsets, I'll look for some interesting terrain to add to the composition, but in this case the horizon was just a straight line over flat ground, which didn't add any interest to the photo. Choosing to include only sky, I then focused on forming the best possible composition. Placing the fireball at the bottom of the frame was a bit unconventional, but it seemed to fit nicely at the tip of the downward spiral formed by the clouds and colors. Finally, the narrow, vertical format accentuates the patterns in the sky and the downward motion of the setting sun. In retrospect, this was the right cropping decision, but I still hedged my bets by taking a few horizontals as well, and sticking around for another 10 minutes.

June 23, 2008

Photo of the Week: June 24, 2008

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: All professional photographers have a specialty. Although I work for a broad spectrum of clients, my niche is Jewish photography. Whether I'm at a wedding or out on the trail, I try to find images with a uniquely Jewish flavor to them. Living in Israel gives me an advantage, because where else in the world would you encounter a bridge whose railing is lined with cutouts shaped like Stars of David? Granted, there were diamonds and hearts as well, but I knew if I could get a shot through one of the star-shaped holes, I'd have a powerful Jewish image. The sparkling sunlight on Tel Aviv's Yarkon River had already caught my attention, so I decided to push the power of my equipment to the limit.

Each star was about three inches across. I lined up my 70-200 mm lens at full zoom about five inches from the railing, much too close to focus. Instead, I pre-focused on the water and metered the exposure for the sunlight. I only had to wait a few seconds until a boater – there were at least two dozen out on the water – floated through my viewfinder. The blurred foreground was not a problem, because I knew that by exposing for the bright light in the distance, it would transform from ugly battleship gray to a pure black silhouette. The kayaker also darkened up nicely, which preserves the boater's anonymity and avoids giving the viewer any additional, potentially distracting details. Finally, when preparing the image for this email, I cropped it slightly off center, giving more weight to the left side. All photographs have action, or a direction of movement. By cropping more loosely to the front of the kayak, I have given the subject some space to move toward. These tiny subtleties are found everywhere in good pictures, and are the difference between engaging or losing a viewer's interest, whether or not they ever know the reason why.

Photo of the Week: June 17, 2008

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: I am fond of quoting the master photographer Ansel Adams, who said in a moment of spiritual musing, "Sometimes I do get to places just when God's ready to have somebody click the shutter." This image required little more than setting my camera on a tripod and waiting for the curtain to rise. I did make a conscious decision to compose the shot in two equal halves, but beyond that, it's all God's show. I have been asked several times about this photo, Is the color real? A more appropriate question would be, Is this how it really looked? The answer, then, is that it depends who's looking.

One of the most important lessons a budding photographer can take into the field is an understanding of the difference between how our eyes see and how a camera records what it "sees." Simply put, cameras attempt to replicate images the way our eyes see them. As good as cameras are at doing this, they are still not as good at "seeing" as the highly complex human eye-brain system. One of the innovations in digital camera technology is the white balance setting, which gives the camera a reference point for color. You tell the camera what kind of light you are working in (sunlight, shade, fluorescent, etc.) and it uses a preset formula to establish the color relationships so that the resulting images look natural. Most people are satisfied to use the automatic setting and never give this a second thought. In this shot, however, in the fatigue of dawn, I mistakenly left the camera on a white balance setting that allowed more of the blue light to be recorded and filtered out the warmer, red and yellow light of the rising sun. The camera did what it was told to do, and my eyes, although surprised by the dramatic results, were nevertheless quite pleased.

June 10, 2008

Photo of the Week: June 10, 2008

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: After selecting this week's image, I began to think about why the still life is such a rich tradition among painters. What is it about fruit, inanimate and ordinary, that compels the greatest artists to devote major works to the simplest of subjects? Part of the answer, I think, has to do with the desire to take a familiar object and apply one's personal artistic vision to recreating it. By choosing an interesting combination of shapes and colors, light and composition, they elevate their subjects to something unique and durable, a work that is pleasing to look at over and over again. I have never felt the lure of the still life, yet I am drawn to fruit trees, especially in Israel, where, like many others who live here, I have a heightened reverence and appreciation for the produce of the land. I prefer to shoot these subjects in nature, where I don't have the painter's luxury of manipulating the composition.

To get this image, I braved a hot, dusty orchard at midday and my eyes had to sort through the bright sunshine and visual chaos to hone in on a point of interest. This shot uses a sophisticated version of the ever-reliable framing technique. The dappled light on the blurred leaves in the foreground combined with the cherries along the outside of the frame form a tunnel which brings the viewer straight into the main subject. I made several attempts to crop the image to make it stronger, but each time reverted back to the original, uncut composition. I prefer the way the disorder of the outer parts of the image balances with the clarity of the center, giving a more realistic impression of the orchard. Finally, the sunlight striking both the cherries and leaves enhances their red and green hues, perfect color complements, which always look good to the human eye.

Photo of the Week: June 3, 2008

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: How do I know when to stop and take a picture? I hate to answer simply that it's a gut feeling – although that is a large part of it - but there are more specific considerations that also come into play. Landscapes, for example, must convey something of what the photographer felt while viewing the scene being photographed. Since every landscape photograph is an abstraction, a very limited representation of a bigger, more detailed place, the challenge becomes how to express something very personal and intimate with only a small canvas on which to paint. In my 10 years in Israel, I've spent less than two weeks in Eilat, but I think the mountains of this region are among the most remarkably beautiful in the world. Their beauty derives mainly from the blending of their unique coloration, which varies from a light, sandy color to a dark, chocolaty brown. I began to hunt for an image which combined these colors with the starkness of their sharp peaks and a landscape almost devoid of anything green and alive. Once I had found the elements that I had identified as responsible for my appreciation of the area, I could easily build a photograph that communicated back to the viewer these same feelings. In order to retain sharpness throughout this image, I chose a point of focus about one-third of the way into the depth of the photo and used an aperture of f-16, which, in addition to providing great depth of field, maximizes the optical quality of the lens. The very warm, red-gold color of the foreground rocks and peaks is a result of the low-angle of the sun as it rises to the rear of the camera.

May 27, 2008

Photo of the Week: May 27, 2008

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Israel's spring wildflower display recedes rapidly as the rainy season gives way to the hot and dry summer months. Nevertheless, there are pockets of color waiting to be discovered, most notably the lavender blossoms of the Jacaranda tree and the vivid orange buds and flowers of the pomegranate fruit. Both of these subjects are extremely alluring because of the stark color contrast between the greenery and the bright-colored flowers. I'm particularly fond of the pomegranate, which features a unique growth cycle in which the fruit bud appears first and later produces a flower from within the growing fruit. This photograph gains its appeal from the unusual angle of view. Finding an unusual perspective is an easy way to give a fresh look to even the most commonplace subjects. The upward angle also mimics the action of the image, which flows from bottom to top. By selecting a wide aperture, I narrowed the depth of field, which creates the surreal, blurred background – and foreground - with sunlight filtering through the leaves.

Photo of the Week: May 20, 2008

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Water is one of a photographer's best friends. I often look for water to add texture to an image, find interesting light, or include a reflection to broaden the composition. This image is a rare departure from the standard symmetrical reflection in that it includes only the reflection itself. Three factors dictated my decision to exclude the upper half. First, bright sun on the arch – part of Nimrod's Fortress on the Golan Heights – made it very difficult to properly expose both halves of the reflection in a single image. Secondly, the stillness of the water created a near-perfect reflection and made it a more inviting subject than its twin. Lastly, the clumps of algae floating on the surface provide depth and texture, making this composition much more appealing than the two-dimensional upper half. The inverted arch also creates a bit of confusion and curiosity, which helps engage viewers beyond the initial glance as they struggle to figure out they are looking at a reflection. Interestingly, flipping the image to its proper perspective deflates this entire process and makes the ruin look like one of those kitschy creations sitting at the bottom of an aquarium. Try it!

Photo of the Week: May 13, 2008

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: A macro or close-up lens is useful only if you first identify with your eyes the detail you want to photograph. The lens itself doesn't select the important content any more than a wide-angle lens keeps out unwanted scenery. I stumbled on this photo while en route to a reporting assignment in the Negev. I had left early to allow for a stop or two along the way and pulled onto the shoulder to admire a group of trees set amidst a vast, green wheat field. When I reached the edge of the field, I noticed this clump of stalks, my attention drawn to the light reflecting off the wet grass and the beads of dew clinging to the ears of wheat. I immediately shifted gears from a wide-angled landscape to a close-up. Monochromatic images like this sometimes lack punch, but in this instance I love the way the blades curve and spiral freely throughout the image. The extreme close-up accentuates the texture and more than makes up for any lack of color variety.
Dew is fleeting, and once the sun gets up, it melts away quickly. If you like this look, however, you can easily recreate it any time by grabbing the nearest water bottle and gently sprinkling the contents onto your subject. Water has a natural tendency to bead and adhere to the surface of flower petals, leaves, and even ripe fruit. In response to a recent photo of the old city walls, I received a comment from a reader in Italy, who wrote to thank me for vividly transporting him to Jerusalem. "The picture made me see the bright, early-morning light, feel the fresh air, and hear the morning noise of a city waking up." Photography really succeeds, I think, when a two-dimensional image can evoke this kind of deep, sensual response that doesn't exist in the actual photo at all, which is just paper or pixels. Sometimes a tiny drop of water or ray of sunshine is enough to set those feelings in motion.

Photo of the Week: May 6, 2008

HOW I GOT THE SHOT – Israeli flags are visible everywhere in Israel, especially during the days leading up to Yom Ha'atzmaut, Israel's Independence Day. Yet Israel is the only country where I've seen so many dilapidated flags in every stage of decay, including some so worn and weathered they are barely recognizable. Several years ago I photographed a flag that had blown off its staff and was wrapped around a barbed-wire fence. It's a stark image and I've never known quite what to do with it. From that point on, however, I began to collect photos of flags in various states of disrepair. This image is part of that collection, albeit one that's still almost whole, having lost only a few pieces of its outer edge. I took this photo one step further by applying an artistic filter in Photoshop, which makes the image resemble a watercolor painting. As part of my personal visual training, I make mental notes of subjects that I like or conditions which prove optimal for capturing expressive images. By logging them in my memory, I begin to notice them more often, even when I'm not taking photographs. I like to think of these flag images as symbolic of the state of the nation at 60. Israel is far from perfect and the country has seen its share of problems in recent years. Nevertheless, like these tattered flags which continue to ripple proudly in the breeze, Israel at 60 remains strong and steadfast in its ability to meet the challenges of the future.

April 29, 2008

Photo of the Week: April 29, 2008

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Only in Israel, I like to believe, would a photographer be asked to shoot an image with the primary criterion being the unique blueness of the sky as perceived by a longtime resident of Jerusalem's Old City. I also had to include a section of the wall, but the color of the early-morning sky was the principal concern of my client, who obviously has a powerful relationship with his environment. I am familiar with the special light in the Old City and there are a many places where the walls and buildings create narrow canyons that give emphasis to the sky above and make its color more noticeable. Still, fulfilling such a personal request was an interesting challenge.
The complexities of this image are very subtle. The silhouette – a blackened subject against a light background – was easily achieved by exposing for the sky in the background. As I walked along the edge of the wall near Jaffa Gate, I saw rays of sun spiking through a variety of openings. With my camera at my waist, looking up at the wall, I inched my way forward until I could see the sun peeking through an opening in one of the turrets just as it appears here. When I used film, I could create a similar sunstar by closing down the aperture to f-16 or f-22 and shooting directly into the sun. This effect doesn’t work as well with digital – you get an additional round flare of light that looks unnatural – unless you shoot through something like a small hole or a leafy branch. I chose the angular composition in an attempt to reduce the parallax distortion that results from shooting a tall object at a short distance. When you aim the camera upward at a tall object, vertical lines converge inward, distorting the image. Finally, the imbalance between the sky and wall adds tension and makes for an unusual look at this oft-photographed subject.

Photo of the Week: April 22, 2008

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Light, form, color, texture, pattern: Take any one of these and you've got the foundation for a great photograph. In my classes, we learn to identify these design elements, single them out, and then advance to images built around two or more of these concepts. The wild irises of Mt. Gilboa are famous enough to merit a trail in their name in Beit Alpha National Park, located along the scenic route that winds from the Beka Valley up to Afula. I finally managed a visit there in the early spring of 2006. While there was plenty of seasonal color, to my dismay I only spotted this single iris which happened to be at the peak of its flowering. When I encounter a subject with potential, I'll often walk full circle around it to study the light, but here it was immediately obvious that a backlit angle would provide the greatest drama. I fiddled a bit more with my camera, mounted on a tripod with a macro lens, to create a background that would both complement the colors in the petals while isolating the flower from anything overly distracting to its form. Back in my digital darkroom, I applied a few quick finishing touches. I cropped the bottom so the stem would appear shooting upward from the lower right corner and I darkened the background just slightly to add emphasis to the backlit petals.

Photo of the Week: April 15, 2008

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: More cameras in the world has led to more picture-taking restrictions. To gain entry to this makeshift matzah bakery in Jerusalem, I had to first ask permission of the owner and then meet two conditions before taking a single photo: I had to come in the middle of the night and get additional permission from everyone on that shift. Having survived the initial challenges, I was able to shoot the entire sequence of production before the baker tossed me out, albeit without the sympathies of his coworkers. This shot uses a technique I discussed in a previous email, in which the flash is delayed until the end of the photograph in order to allow movement to be recorded by the existing room light and then frozen with the burst of flash during the concluding microseconds of the exposure. Even though the exposure was longer than what I would normally shoot hand-held, there is no need for a cumbersome tripod because sharp focus is not the goal. The feeling of movement captures the frenetic energy of the bakery, which operates around the clock with the efficiency of a crew team and includes a coxswain-like leader, visible on the right edge of the photo, who sets the rhythm and pace of each round of baking.

April 08, 2008

Photo of the Week: April 8, 2008

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Prior to his first aliya to the Torah as a bar mitzvah, a boy studies the section of the Torah he is about to read. Every time I photograph a boy reading from the Torah, I compose a shot that leaves only the hand and text in the image. I like this image because it differs from what I usually shoot and because of how his hand is gently grasping the yad, the silver pointer he will use to guide his reading from the Torah scroll. While the hand appears calm, there is a frenzy of black lines running in several directions that offers an interesting counterpoint to the relaxed energy of the hand. Faceless photographs often lose a great deal of the depth and interest that is generated by looking at a person's facial expression and eyes. Cropping body parts is also a risky business. It's difficult to isolate parts of the body yet still maintain a feeling of comfort when looking at the photo. One general rule to follow is never lop off limbs in midsection so that part of the arm or leg leaves the frame and then returns, unattached, in another section of the photo. Here, I was careful not to crop tighter than the elbows on either side so that the curve of the arms is continuous from shoulder to hand. Another common mistake by young photographers is the dreaded ankle chop, in which a group photo shows everything but the ankles and feet. Better to crop at the waist if not going for a full-body portrait. Increasing viewfinder awareness will enable you to see these mistakes before you press the shutter release.

March 29, 2008

Photo of the Week: Mar. 30, 2008

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Stately old trees are a rare sight in Israel. Most of what would be considered old-growth forests were uprooted long ago by the Ottomans. Although the Jewish National Fund has done remarkable work in reforesting much of the country, even decades-old groves don't have the personality of aged, wild trees. This photo is another gem from my sojourn on the Golan Heights earlier this month. Exploring near the Jordanian border, I spied these old oaks on the wrong side of a barb-wire and chain-link fence that made photographing impossible. So alluring were these venerable giants I would have climbed on the roof of my car to get a shot, but they were still too far from the road to allow a good composition. Luck, however, was lingering. On the point of abandoning my pursuit, I found a local cutting off the lock to the lone gate in a two-mile stretch of the fence. After a quick introduction and a brief struggle to remove the lock, he offered me a tour of his property, used mainly for grazing cattle, and blessed me to wander to my heart's content. I like this trio because the trees are varied in size and shape and far enough apart to allow a full profile of each one. I also like the way their darkened trunks and branches accentuate their strength and mystery. I kept the image true to the slope of the land, which falls off abruptly into a huge chasm separating Israel from Jordan and Syria, which is visible in the distance along the right hand edge of the photo. Finally, the smattering of color provided by the various wildflowers adds a finishing touch to the painterly quality of this pastoral image.

March 23, 2008

Photo of the Week: Mar. 23, 2008

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Asked to describe a classic image of Israel, few people would answer, "lakes and snow-capped mountains." Yet one can find both these natural wonders in Northern Israel. From almost any point on the Golan Heights, Mt. Hermon looms on the horizon like a giant sentry, which in many ways it really is. While in pursuit of another idea, I spotted a sign marking my arrival at the Orvim Reservoir, but a hill obscured any view of the water from my car. Not knowing what to expect, I walked an easy 50 meters from the parking lot to the top of the bank and a perfect perspective to shoot across the water at the mountain. It was a very windy afternoon, as evidenced by the ripples on the water, and I suffered through visions of the mountain's perfectly symmetrical reflection on still water. I settled for this image, which is greatly helped by my elevation above the water and by walking a short distance along the bank to position the few trees as guideposts to drawing viewers' eyes toward the main subject. I cropped the image to be very long and narrow, almost panoramic. Though now offered as a shooting option on many digital cameras, panoramic photos are still unusual enough to generate interest by their shape alone. Throw in an interesting subject, and the two combine to produce a powerful visual statement.

March 16, 2008

Photo of the Week: Mar. 16, 2008

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: I often try to recreate in a photograph how I felt at the moment I was shooting it. This may seem self-evident, but think for a moment about all the sensual stimuli that can't be captured in a photograph. In this shot of a field of wild mustard, taken last week just below the Peace Lookout in the lower Golan Heights, I had to leave out the warmth of the sunshine, the cool breeze, chirping birds and the intoxicating floral aroma. As I waded through the field, hip-high in flowers, I truly felt as if I were in an ocean of wildflowers. To convey that feeling, I used a wide-angle lens and searched for a viewpoint that stretches the yellow across the frame and far into the depth of the photo. The olive trees appear to be islands, floating in this sea. If you look carefully, you can spot one of Israel's real "seas," the Kinneret, in a few pieces just behind these trees. I arrived here around 9 a.m., and although the sun was already high, the cloud layer helped soften the brightness. My built-in exposure meter is extremely accurate, but I chose to underexpose the image by about 1/3 of a stop, which slightly darkened the sky and boosted the color intensity or saturation of the yellow mustard flowers. To see a full gallery of Israel's spring wildflowers, please visit: A Passion for Poppies.

March 12, 2008

Photo of the Week: Mar. 9, 2008

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: The Anemone Coronaria – the poppy anemone or "kalanit" in Hebrew, is one of the most widespread and beloved flowers in Israel. For a few weeks each spring, they provide ultra-dramatic coloring to hillsides and valleys that are brown and dry for most of the year. Red is the most common color, but pink, purple and white kalaniyot are also found in smaller numbers across central and northern Israel. This shot was taken in Emek HaEla, across from the well-known Bezeq satellite station. From the main road, the red fields certainly catch your eye, but as usual the prize lay in taking a few extra minutes to follow a dirt road to the heart of the field. Landscapes, like portraits, are not flattered when the camera is aimed uphill, but a wide angle lens combined with the contours of this scene, especially the slight dip in the land at the bottom of the photo, allowed the full visual effect of the flowers to come across. The rest of the composition was determined by the sweeping line of trees, with two clumps of larger trees set at either side of the image. The dark green of the tree line also provides a nice contrast to the blue sky and red flowers. This shot was taken at mid-morning, because the flowers remain closed during the early morning and late afternoon hours, when the sun is lower in sky.

March 02, 2008

Photo of the Week: Mar. 2, 2008

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: One of my favorite spring haunts is Har Socho, also known as Givat Haturmusim or, in English, Lupines Hill, off route 375 in the Ela Valley near Beit Shemesh. A popular hiking spot for families, the hill is an easy 10-minute ascent to one of the richest concentrations of wildflowers I have discovered in Israel. Although there are at least two dozen varieties growing there, the dominant flower is the purple lupine, seen here, which grows primarily on the top and southern slope. This photo is another example of how I try to merge land and sky into a unified composition. I love dramatic cloud formations as complements to the main subject. The position and length of the clouds in this image forced the vertical composition, and I chose a low camera angle which follows the slope of the hill down to the left, thereby creating a sweeping, almost circular motion from the stems and flowers up through the clouds. The low angle of view, as opposed to the angle most often used by photographers - shooting down from a standing position - offers a more detailed and engaging look at the flowers. By crouching down and shooting up, I was able to extend the tops of the uppermost flowers above the horizon line and into the sky, which brings together the two main elements of the photo.

Photo of the Week: Feb. 24, 2008

HOW I GOT THE SHOT – Environmental portrait photography is a process that takes time for the subject and location to gel into a unified whole. Although I had been envisioning this genre of photo for weeks before arriving on the mountain, I had less than five minutes to complete the shot and I struggled to find the proper perspective while standing on a steep, rocky slope at 14,600 feet. I tried a few shots with a wide angle lens, but the subject was too small, so I backed up the hill and switched to a 135mm telephoto and asked the subject to climb onto the rock. Zoom and telephoto lenses have the effect of compressing depth, which in this photo makes the clouds appear closer to the subject. I shot about a dozen frames from start to finish, each time moving up or down until I finally found a foothold at an angle that put the subject and the rock he was on above the lower bank of clouds in order to accentuate the feeling of standing astride the edge of the world. Finally, I placed the subject along the left third to give balance to the mass of clouds in the upper right of the frame.

February 16, 2008

Photo of the Week: Feb. 17, 2008

HOW I GOT THE SHOT – The road up to Mt. Hermon, the highest point in Israel, wraps around this hill, affording gracious views of this 13th-century fortress from both above and below. I arrived early enough to catch the eastern flank illuminated by the first light of the day. I continued to shoot until the sun rose above the horizon and threw warm light onto the stones. I prefer this earlier shot, however, because I like the blue and purple hues of the Hula Valley stretching out in the distance. Once the sun got a little higher, those colors were replaced by a white haze and the contrast between the light on the fortress and the trees was too great for my camera to handle. Exposing properly for the stones caused the trees to turn black and lose much of their detail, which is preserved in this lower contrast image. I would normally try to avoid centered compositions, but the triangular shape of the hill gives the photo a solid foundations to rest upon. The triangle is one of the strongest compositional shapes and I look for them in a variety of photos, from landscapes to group portraits.

February 10, 2008

Photo of the Week: Feb. 10, 2008

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Israel turns the corner very quickly from winter to spring, a season highlighted by vivid displays of wildflowers throughout the country. Beginning in mid-February and continuing well into May, a variety of colorful wildflowers make their appearance in Israel following the winter rains. I had the good fortune to pass this site while en route to a beach along Israel's southern coast near Ashkelon. I spent the night camped nearby and returned to photograph the next morning. To take this photo, I had to traipse about 100 meters through waist-high grass wet with dew to obtain a vantage point that obscured the road and a series of power lines running alongside the field. Israel is a small country and there are few places where the works of man don't intrude upon the natural scenery. The early morning light gives the grass a golden glow, which nicely complements the red poppies. I chose a wide angle lens to take in as much of the scene as possible, maximize depth of field, and emphasize the feeling of standing in a wide open space. The long cloud mass hovering over the field, another small stroke of luck, rounds out the composition.

Photo of the Week: Feb. 3, 2008

No story is complete without a few small details to add color to the bigger picture. Photographic details can also speak volumes about a larger story. Learning to see those details and extract them from the surrounding visual noise is one of the keys to honing picture-taking skills. This simple image jumped out at me as I explored my garden following two days of wind, cold rain, hail, and finally snow. The bigger pictures of whitened hillsides and rows of cars buried in newly fallen powder seemed less intriguing then this single nuance of a weather event that dominated our lives for three days. I composed the shot to isolate the glass ornament against a background of tree branches. Later, in Photoshop, I removed the yellow hues in the background to make it appear black and white. I used to practice the lost art of colorizing black and white photos and still admire this effect when done with care and subtlety in a few select images. The absence of color elsewhere in the photo makes the subject appear that much more striking, bold, and, I think, beautiful.

January 30, 2008

Photo of the Week: Jan. 27, 2008

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: I came upon this scene about a month ago after finishing a photo session with a boy donning tefillin for the first time. About 100 young Haredi boys had gathered at the Kotel for morning prayers. I was drawn to them as I watched their Rav lead them in reciting the various prayers out loud in unison. This shot illustrates my approach to photographing sensitive subject matter. There are two issues at play here: First, the boys are in the midst of prayer, and out of respect, I didn't want to disturb them. Secondly, I have always found it more difficult to photograph members of the Haredi community. They simply don't want to be photographed, although this is less true for children than adults. Whenever I encounter a sensitive photographic situation, I always make my intent to photograph known and if I am waved off, I turn away and look for another opportunity. More often than not, however, people are flattered when you take an interest in them, and expressing a desire to take their picture often warms them up to the photographer. These boys looked at me curiously, but were devoted enough to their prayers to ignore me.
I kept a respectful distance from the group and chose a 200mm zoom lens, which has the effect of compressing the depth in the photo, thereby making the boys in the rear appear a little closer to the front row. Out of habit when shooting children, I crouched down on one knee to bring the camera to a lower height. I fired off 2-3 frames and disappeared.
I cropped the final image just a bit to bring the boys edge to edge, an effect I've mentioned before that gives the photo a sense of expansiveness beyond what is visible.

January 23, 2008

Photo of the Week: Jan. 20, 2008

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: One of the inherent dangers of being a photographer is that while driving, I often spend more time admiring the landscape than the road. This orchard caught my eye one day while driving up the road from Beit Shemesh to Gush Etzion and I tracked down the exact spot a few days later. The image evolved through several efforts to bring the three main elements - the grassy foreground, the pink blossoms, and the blue mountains and sky - into proper balance and perspective. Typically, my mobility was limited by the contours of the surrounding landscape. I wanted to maintain a slight elevation above the foreground to give the photo better depth, but there wasn't much room to maneuver without losing height. The best angle I could find still left the line of pink trees somewhat thinner and less dominant in the photo than what I could see as I walked around the orchard. In the end, the bold, complementary colors combine with the movement of the photo from lower right to upper left corner to pull the photo together into a successful composition.